Arsenal were one of the first clubs to express an interest in Ronaldo when he was a relatively unknown entity at Sporting Lisbon, but widely regarded within the football world as an unpolished diamond.
The Gunners, and particularly Wenger, had started to make a move, only for Manchester United‘s friendly with Sporting Lisbon to completely shake things up.
Cristiano Ronaldo has opened up on how he very nearly signed for Arsenal in 2003
Speaking on Portuguese TV station TVI, Ronaldo outlined how his transfer came together
Ronaldo admitted many teams were interested, but Manchester United stepped up their effort
During a recent interview with Portuguese TV station TVI, Ronaldo outlined how contact had been made by several clubs in the lead up to his eventual departure from Portugal
‘There had been contacts with so many other teams, Valencia for example were one of them,’ revealed Ronaldo.
‘I met with Arsene Wenger and was about to go to Arsenal. I talked to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter too but after the friendly against Manchester United, who were already interested, they became even more interested and they sped up negotiations and signed me.’
The now famous United tie with Sporting Lisbon saw the Red Devils desperate to sign Ronaldo
2002–2003: Sporting CP B – Apps: 2 Goals: 0
2002–2003: Sporting CP – Apps: 30 Goals: 5
2003–2009: Man United – Apps: 292 Goals: 118
2009–2018: Real Madrid – Apps: 438 Goals: 450
2018 – Juventus – Apps: 43 Goals: 28
It was during United’s friendly with Sporting that Sir Alex Ferguson was urged by his own players to bring Ronaldo to Old Trafford as soon as possible.
Defender and club legend Gary Neville, who faced Ronaldo during that match, later admitted the youngster was one of the most able rivals he had ever come up against.
‘After the match [against Sporting] I remember sending a text to my brother, saying ‘we need to sign him’ and apparently there was a lot of talk about him on the coach after the game,’ Neville wrote many years later in a column for Sky Sports.
‘Obviously players should never be involved in signings, but he certainly made everyone sit up and take notice.
‘I’d never heard of him and I’d never seen him before that night, but there was a huge excitement among the players afterwards.’
United secured Ronaldo’s signature in a £12.5million deal, with Ferguson insisting the star take on the legendary No.7 shirt of the iconic David Beckham, who had departed for Real Madrid.
Ronaldo, now instantly associated around the globe with the No.7, initially did not want to take the famous shirt because of the pressure it carried, but instead requested the No.28 he wore in Portugal.